in cat Cairo Biennial 2006
In the 1990s, Hervé Graumann was among the pioneers of digital media art in Switzerland. He became widely known in 1993 with his work “Raoul Pictor cherche son style…” (1993), a slightly modernized version of which is available on the Internet to this day (www.raoulpictor.com). In this computer animation, we can watch the artist Raoul Pictor – a simple little cartoon man of the generation of “Super Mario” – at work: he is painting a picture for us. It is only at the end of the roughly five-minute clip that we get a front view of the painting once we have printed it out. Until then, we follow the painter, who is represented with all the characteristics of the archetypal romantic artist, through the heights and depths of the creative process: he mixes colors, he consults works of literature, he experiences artistic ecstasy in the act of painting, he interrupts his work to take a drink etc. At the end, the finished painting bearing the signature of the artist is ready for print-out. Both the creative process and the printed “painting” are different every time due to the digital random generator used for the animation.
On the face of it, Graumann’s animation appears to be an amusing persiflage on an obsolete image of the artist. Upon closer contemplation, however, it calls for some reflection on the condition of art and the status of the artist in the era of digital reproduction. On the one hand, we have modern new media artist Hervé Graumann who writes programs that in turn generate pictures. As is the case with computer lyrics, the question arises what we are actually holding in our hand when the printer spits out a “painting”: is it a work of art by Hervé Graumann? by Raoul Pictor? or no art at all? On the other hand, the digital world presents us with the classic view of artistic genius: Raoul Pictor with his brush and his beret fighting an inner battle to find his own “personal style”, unique and authentic, qualities that the artist substantiates by putting his signature on the paintings. A rather outmoded image of the contemporary artist perhaps, yet one that is still at the heart of the world of art and its economic structures. At least none of the young computer and Internet artists has so far succeeded in establishing himself on the Mount Olympus of contemporary art with programmed works that can be reproduced in any quantity.
The characteristic wit and critical potential of many of Hervé Graumann’s works is based on a process of a transformation and dislocation whereby elements are displaced from one system to another. As part of this dislocation, certain rules from the old system are retained in the new one, and it is for the very fact that they seem out of place there that they become noticeable. In the video sculptures “EZmodels”, virtual rides through computer-generated rooms, Hervé Graumann uses a computer to convert photographs into three-dimensional objects. Whereas mental adjustments are easily made for the opposite process of flattening space to create a photograph the resultant products being read as a faithful replica of reality, the conversion of photographs into three-dimensional structures gives rise to a disconcerting and uncanny world with visual blanks revealing all that was lost when the photographs were made in the first place. The same disconcerting quality can still be detected in the virtual worlds of computer games, though it will probably not be long before we feel at home as much in the space of the video sculptures as we do in the showroom. The path from space to picture and back to space corresponds to the media change from nature to photography and from there to video. Hervé Graumann’s artistic research focuses on such media changes and their implications rather than the actual use of the “new media”.
At first sight, Hervé Graumann’s works from the series of “Patterns” which he shows in Cairo seem to represent what their title suggests: ornamental compositions with an endless repetition of a single motif. After all, it is precisely in the world of computers that such visual ornaments have once again attained a ubiquitous presence in the form of wallpapers for desktops and other sites. That said, Graumann’s “Patterns” only pretend to do justice to their name, for they were not created on the computer, in the economic spirit of “copy and paste”. Instead, they are based on traditional artistic handicraft: Hervé Graumann builds his compositions as spatial installations and subsequently photographs them for further use as a framed picture or wallpaper. Thus on the basis of various media changes, his patterns unite different genres characterized, in the European tradition, by different rules and valuations. The synthetic object accumulation of the installation – in the tradition of Pop Art and Nouveau Réalisme – overlaps with the mimetic details of the perspectively shortened pictorial space of photography and also with the abstract world of the ornament with its balanced color and form compositions. Depending on point of view and cultural background, this interaction of various visual elements can be seen as a path from “low” to “high” and back to “low”. Akin to fables and travesty as a theatrical device, the real nature of the figures is revealed when they are dressed in fake clothes. But even the power of clothes only fully manifests itself when they are worn by fake figures.